New Philippine President Faces Demands of the People

Rule of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ending, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III expected to assume office on June 30.
by J.D. Benjamin – BASICS Issue #20 July/Aug 2010

With the widely despised and thoroughly corrupt regime of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on it’s way out of office, peoples’ organizations in the Philippines and around the world are already asserting their demands to soon-to-be President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Aquino ran a campaign that promised “change” and an end to corruption.

After enduring violent repression, kidnappings, assassinations of popular leaders and massive theft of public wealth, many are anxious to see those responsible behind bars.  Since 2001, more than 1,000 progressive workers, farmers, students, church people and lawyers have been killed, while hundreds more have been abducted.

The International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), a worldwide organization of public interest and human rights lawyers, has called the prosecution of the Arroyo and her cronies a “litmus test for Noynoy Aquino. His attitude and policy towards human rights will be judged at the first instance on how he will pursue the prosecution and conviction of Mrs. Arroyo, her family members and allies who committed crimes against the people.”

Those calls were echoed in a press conference by Desaparecidos, an organization representing families of people “disappeared” by the Arroyo regime.  Victims families called on Aquino to immediately release all political prisoners seized illegally and to punish human rights violators.

Aquino is being urged to restart peace talks with armed rebel groups, including the New People’s Army, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines.  The Arroyo regime repeatedly sabotaged the peace process and launched military campaigns to crush the insurgency.  Each campaign was accompanied by large scale human rights violations and ended in failure.

There were also calls for major changes in the Philippine economy.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a peasants’ association, rallied in front of the gates of Noynoy’s residence, attempting to hand over a list of farmer’s demands.  The KMP called for the implementation of “genuine” land reform based on “free land distribution to farmers”  as well as an end to “land grabbing, displacements of farmers and land use conversions”.  Previous land reform schemes carried out by the government were mostly fake and did little to help landless peasants.

Workers are also calling on Aquino for “change” to include a desperately needed minimum wage hike.  “For more than nine years now, we workers have not had a substantial wage increase. Mrs. Arroyo has implemented a ‘wage freeze’ policy, ensuring that workers receive mere crumbs while foreign investors get maximum returns on their investments,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of trade union federation Kilusang Mayo Uno.

There is little evidence however that Aquino will push for the kind of systemic reform that would be necessary to get to the root of corruption and other social problems.  Noynoy is a member of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, which owns vast tracks of land and benefit from maintaining feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism in Philippine society.  To shift the Philippines on to a path of independent national industrialization and pro-people reforms would involve turning on his own base amongst the elite, whose wealth and power depend on raw exports and exploiting cheap labour on behalf of foreign companies.

Fortunately, while the people are demanding that he follow through on his promises of “change”, they are refusing to take a wait and see approach.  Calling Aquino’s promises “a long shot”, activists are continuing to build an independent movement for genuine change based on the strength of the people rather than a faction of the elite.

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